The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 30, 14 August 2018: Trier to Christiansfeld (19 km; 1528 km in total)

2018 08 14 Kolding to Christiansfeld (17 km)

In the morning, it was more Marx. At first light, we sought out the house where he was born. On the way, we rode under banners saying ‘Wir sind Marx’, announcements at the museum of a special display concerning Marx, and yet another visit to the statue.

Soon our early train would depart from Trier, to wind our way northwards, via Hamburg and a technical breakdown on the rail bottleneck north of Hamburg, eventually via an odd collection of regional trains to Kolding station deep in the night.

From Kolding to Christianfeld is 17 kilometres, through the countryside and without roadside lights. She has a simple flashing light that might do for town riding, but not in these conditions. Fortunately, I have a dynamo light that shines up the heavens and the earth. So I rode in front, lighting the way forward on a pitch-black night. A little before midnight, we rode into the village, returning to the point from which we had begun a month earlier. Over more than 1500 kilometres, much had changed in our sense of life, but we would find out only as the weeks and months unfolded.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 29, 13 August 2018: Hof to Trier: 2 km (1509 km in total)

2018 08 13-14 Trier (4km)

At one level, the ride itself was over, for we had achieved our destination. At other levels, it was not. Part of the reason was that I had begun to think of the next long ride, pondering routes. And part of the reason was that we wanted to visit Trier on our way home.

Why Trier? This year marked the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. We simply could not miss the opportunity to visit Trier in this auspicious year. From Hof we took regional trains westward to the Rhineland. Here, along the Moselle River, there was no drought. Green were the hills and fields and humid was the air.

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We arrived in Trier near dusk and pedalled a short distance to the Porta Nigra, the ancient Roman gate to the city. Indeed, Trier is the oldest city in Germany, having been founded by the Romans as they tried to conquer the local tribes. Close by and in the old town was Kolpinghaus Warsberger Hof, a popular hostel at a reasonable price for the location (71 Euro). We dropped our bicycles and luggage and immediately set off to find Marx.

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Soon we found him, or, rather, his statue. Close by the Porta Nigra is a brand new statue, made by the famous sculptor Wu Weishan and provided as a gift from the Chinese government to Trier. It had been unveiled on 5 May, Marx’s birthday.

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It warmed my heart to find Chinese characters, for Marx’s name, in the middle of Trier. It warmed our hearts to find that the other visitors at this late hour were from China and Russia. I chatted with the former in Chinese, finding out that they were from Shanghai.

Marx kept appearing in town. Traffic lights near the statue bore his image. As did the beer glasses at a late drink. The beer was crap and expensive, so as we sipped, I said, ‘You know we are paying for the glasses’. With that observation, we quietly departed with the beer glasses in hand.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 28, 12 August 2018: Hirschberg to Hof, via the Drieländereck (52 km; 1507 km in total)

How much can you pack into 50 kilometres or so? Quite a lot, it seems.

She suggested we ride initially to Mödlareuth, about 15 kilometres away. It is known as ‘Little Berlin’. Why? Through the middle of this tiny village the border runs. So it had the works: watchtowers, walls and fences, a museum, even an intact border pole with an original ‘Deutsche Demokratische Republik’ plaque. These are hard to find, since they soon became souvenir items after 1989.

From Mödlareuth we rode on, following small local ‘Grenz-tour’ signs over the plateau. We had anticipated more climbs like yesterday from Blankenstein, but instead we pedalled freely. Small climbs came and went, as is the case with plateaux, but none too difficult. With the wind, the wasps were blown about, frequently hitting our helmets and faces. At one point, I thought I had swallowed one, but it turned out to another large flying object that was soon absorbed by my digestive juices.

Next was the border point, but how to get to it? I found a farm track and path through the forest. Modest it seemed, until we turned a corner to find the ‘Drieländereck’, the ‘Three Land Point’. Why three? Was this not the border between Germany and the Czech Republic? The many border stones told a longer story.

Some had ‘DB’ and ‘DS’, harking back to a time when Bavaria and Saxony were separate states, before the first effort at German unification under Bismarck in the later nineteenth century. Along with Czechoslovakia, these were the three states.

Yes, Czechoslovakia: their stones had ‘ČS’, dating from after 1918 when that state was formed after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Now the ‘S’ has been whited out – since the Czech Republic and Slovakia became separate states in 1993 – but it is still visible. For us, the three states were of course East Germany and West Germany, along with Czechoslovakia. Curiously, but not unexpectedly, none of this history is present at the border point.

This point had been the aim of our ride, so we celebrated with sour cherry juice and mineral water.

Yet another achievement: on the way to Hof and our accommodation for the night, we hit 1500 kilometres!

We pedalled into Hof and the Hotel am Kuhbogen. At 82 Euro with breakfast, it was more than we had payed for a while. But this was a larger centre in the western parts.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 27, 11 August 2018: Eisfeld to Hirschberg (52 km; 1455 km in total)

2018 08 11 Eisfeld to Hirschberg (52km)

The ride today had two sections, with a rail journey in between. The reason for the railway was that a series of mountain ranges confronted us, with no clear route through them. We could opt for a busy road or two, but that is not so enjoyable on slow climbs and without road shoulders.

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Or we could follow river valleys running north and south, following a zigzag route to get to our destination for the day. As it was, the train did exactly that. From Coburg, it went south to Lichtenfels, where we changed to a train that ran north to Kaulsdorf, and then another south again to Blankenstein.

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After a sumptuous breakfast in the Früstückszimmer of our hotel, we tackled the first part of the ride from Eisfeld to Coburg, across the border in the west. Keen to see a few of the more remote border crossings, we rode down to Lautertal, turned north on a quiet winding path to climb over the border again at Emstadt, and then dropped to the Froschgrundsee. In this case, the ‘see’ was actually produced by a massive dam on the Itz River. Down from the dam and along the river we rode, into Coburg and its railway station.

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Alighting in Blankenstein, we were confronted with two options: climb the steep track to Blankenberg or follow what is called in these parts the Saale River Radweg. A river route seemed the obvious choice – except that the Saale herabouts runs through deep gorges. Since our bicycles were not amphibious, we needed to climb over the mountains that always go alongside gorges.

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Three of them there were, steep, long and tough. Eventually, we found some quiet river riding into Hirschberg and the wholesome Hotel Kleeblatt, at 60 Euro with breakfast. In the forest it sat, so wasps dared not venture here. We ate outside, enjoying the Sorbian dish of quark and potatoes.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 26, 10 August 2018: Jüchsen to Eisfeld (55 km; 1403 km in total)

First up, another relatively ancient track through mountain and forest. Vastly different from sleek and fast roads of today, for the ancients seemed to enjoy a climb and a forest, especially if one simply used horses or went on foot.

We needed to follow it to Vachdorf, since there we would be able to ride along one last piece of the Werratal Radweg. With the river coming ever closer to its source, we spent little time along the actual river and more along various roads and forest tracks – although still with regular border crossings. Through Grimmelshausen and Hildberghausen we rode with some ease.

Perhaps the first day of cooler weather helped. Perhaps it was the wasps in plague proportions. Wherever we rode, they scouted the ground in weaving patterns, looking for something sweet to satisfy the instinct for life. Should a sweet morsel be found, a swarm would soon descend, each grabbing what it could. However, we also found that wasps do not like the deep forest. Was it the absence of sweetness? Not really, since the forest has plenty of berries and fruits. Was it perhaps that the forest regulates itself, keeping out weeds and natural imbalances such as wasp plagues during hot summers? More likely, especially if it is an ancient forest. So it seems as though wasps like places where human beings do their disruptive things.

That said, she was stung while we stopped on the edge of a forest. A wasp had strayed in, perhaps attracted by our sweat. She had felt something on her leg, put her hand down and over a wasp, which promptly stung her and flew off (I still saw the European wasps like mosquitos, out to sting you at any opportunity – not so, for they sting only when pressed or cornered.). The last time she was stung was as a child and the memory of that pain was still with her. She recalled that it was the most excruciating pain she had ever experienced. Now she marvelled: yes, it hurt, but it was bearable. A life of experiences does that to you.

Late in the day, we began looking for accommodation. One place after another was full, or so the person on the other end of the phone politely told us. On this late weekend in summer with the slightly cooler weather, people seemed to be getting away for a few days. Beds were few indeed.

At last, we found Schaumberger Hof in Eisfeld, at the customary 50 Euro. With hundreds of years of history, it was yet another simple pension that was off the grid. We could not get enough of it, as well as one of the best meals of the ride – a massive Bauernfrüstuck and solid German salad.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 25, 9 August 2018: Findlos to Jüchsen (68 km; 1348 km in total)

2018 08 09 Findlos to Juechsen (68km)

If yesterday was hard work without any exhilaration, today was even more hard work but thoroughly exhilarating.

We began with the toughest climb of the whole ride. Out of the next village, Batten, the road took us up, up and up for almost five kilometres. Much of it required standing on the pedals in granny gear, going no faster than a walking pace – walking uphill with a bicycle in tow, that is.

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As the track became more remote and broken, we saw signs that it was an ancient path indeed. The village of Frankenstein was next. Since we imagined it would be yet another village on a stream, we expected a massive drop to get there. But the name should have told us otherwise: the village was perched atop the mountains, obtaining its water from wells.

The drop would come soon enough. We had by now a pile of descent credits, which we now used for kilometre after kilometre. Brakes burned hot on the descent, with a pause in Fladungen for coffee and küche, until we reached Mellrichstadt. As with so many towns in the east since 1989, Mellrichstadt still struggled economically.

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Here the signs entailed not so much the dying crops in the drought (although this did not help), but the significant number of people with substance abuse problems, as happens so often when everything else in life falls apart.

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From Mellrichstadt, we opted to go overland to the village of Sälzfeld. Although we were hot and sweaty, we felt good on the bicycles. I cannot recall whether we felt so good before or after this part of the ride, for it was one of those roads that you never forget.

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Fast we rode along smooth farm tracks. The sky towered above and the plateau stretched out before us. It was yet another path made just for us, on this day. Not another soul was in sight.

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The climax: we crested a climb only to see a magnificent border watchtower with a cross beside it. On a hillock outside Sälzfeld, it still kept quiet watch, enjoying the fields and mountains and sky.

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The last few kilometres of the day needed some riding along a busy stretch of road (including a close call with a bus) then a very quiet stretch after negotiating a road closure. Jüchsen it would be tonight, an eastern village with magnificent skies, a quiet local eatery and the extraordinary Hotel Garni am Rosenhügel. I loved it, but who wouldn’t at 48 Euro a night, with breakfast included.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 24, 8 August 2018: Vacha to Findlos (60 km; 1280 km in total)

2018 08 08 Vacha to Findlos (60km)

This was a day of two halves. We had begun riding along the Ulstertal, a route of some 60 kilometres that followed a branch of the Werra River. The first half rolled along smoothly, along trails that were well signposted (for the Ulstertal), until we arrived in Geisa. At this rate, we would end the day relatively early.

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Or so we thought.

We had decided to inspect ‘Point Alpha’, a site – we were to find – so designated by the US Army troops located there. Here was a complete museum, funded by some shady ‘Point Alpha Foundation’, with efforts to present the US soldiers as friendly types who were there for the general good. The flagpole was deliberately raised off the ground – by supports – to indicate that their presence was in no way meant to be an occupation. Nice try.

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Geisa did not seem to want to let us go. The effort to get to Point Alpha entailed hauling our bicycles over a rough field up the side of a mountain. I pulled a groin and she managed two punctures. We found one of the punctures, thinking we could be on our way, only to notice the other not long afterwards. Another stop, another repair, all while I was busting for a leak.

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After Geisa, the second part of the day was always going to be a struggle. A hot headwind arose and the hills seemed sharper and longer: we had simply run out of energy and each kilometre seemed like ten. Pension Georghof in Findlos might have been 70 Euro with breakfast, but it was a somewhat weird place. At least they did not interfere with our sleep.

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